Auckland needs to start planning for its own version of London's Tate Modern art gallery on the waterfront before Wellington does, says a leading arts patron.

John Gow is asking the Auckland Council to include the project in its long-term budget, but stresses he is not asking for money at this stage.

Mr Gow - who owns the Connells Bay Sculpture Park on Waiheke Island, co-founded the island's Sculpture on the Gulf exhibition and was a major private funder of the city's new Q Theatre - wants the council to consider the visionary concept of an international contemporary art gallery on the Auckland waterfront.

Most countries have a contemporary gallery dedicated to "today's" art, he said in a submission on the council's long-term budget.


Mr Gow said New Zealand punched above its weight in contemporary art and it needed to be recognised that, internationally, art museums were among the most visited destinations anywhere.

"Such arts facilities are magnets for international travellers and Auckland needs to catch up. If we don't do it, Wellington will."

Mr Gow said that besides Britain's Tate Modern, housed in the former Bankside power station on the River Thames, there were contemporary museums in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. New York's Museum of Modern Art had its own institution dedicated solely to contemporary art.

The arts in Auckland are facing tough times with talk of a $12.4 million top-up from ratepayers for the $121 million upgrade of the Auckland Art Gallery and the Auckland Theatre Company seeking to raise $41 million for a new theatre project at Wynyard Quarter.

Mr Gow said a centre for contemporary art was a 10- to 20-year project and although there was no need for funding at this stage, the Government, Auckland Council and the private sector would need to pitch in.

In the meantime, there was the possibility of using the New Gallery, across the road from the Auckland Art Gallery, or Shed 10 on Queens Wharf to exhibit local and international contemporary art.

Auckland Art Gallery director Chris Saines applauded the idea of beginning a conversation for a contemporary art gallery in Auckland.

"Cities worldwide have outgrown their foundation art institutions and sought to branch out into the establishment of more contemporary annexes, just as Brisbane did a number of years ago and Melbourne did some time before that," Mr Saines said.

He understood that some people might ask why the city should be considering a new gallery when it had just upgraded the Auckland Art Gallery, but said there would come a point in about 10 to 15 years when it would be needed.

"Visions have to start somewhere."

Arts patron Dame Jenny Gibbs said the city had only just completed the beautiful expansion of the Auckland Art Gallery and was not short of space.

But Dame Jenny - who with former husband Alan Gibbs established the New Gallery opposite the Auckland Art Gallery in 1995 to showcase modern New Zealand art - said a contemporary art gallery was an excellent idea in the longer term.

Last year, Auckland arts commentator Hamish Keith floated the idea of building an offshoot of Wellington's Te Papa on Wynyard Quarter, prompting former Auckland Art Gallery director Rodney Wilson to call for a "bold, provocative, widely appealing" contemporary art gallery instead.